It’s still out there

SO for the past two and a half years, I’ve been safely cocooning at home, like most people, to ensure I wouldn’t catch Covid-19. Even when the community quarantines eased up and I started having lunches or dinners with select friends, we would meet up either outdoors, or still practiced social distancing.

I only started going out of town beginning late October 2021, and usually to Boracay Island with family. The island has always been our favorite place for vacations and family bonding activities (read: shoveling seafood into our mouths and imbibing our favorite alcoholic beverages).

Last May, I was also in Clark, Pampanga for a press coverage, then again last month for another family vacation to celebrate the “triumphant” return of my niece after four years of being away from the country.

I guess these easing of restrictions and constant moving around—I started attending news conferences and some public shows/events in person—made me let down my guard. I relaxed too much, started having meals in air-conditioned restaurants, and enjoyed gabbing with friends I had not seen during the lockdown. I even attended a big food expo, then watched Jo Koy with thousands of other people. (We kept our masks on, though.)

But after a recent trip to Cebu, Covid finally bit my ass. A few days after our media group returned to Manila, my throat became scratchy. Like there were tiny ant feet, moving around, dancing a jig and using my throat as a dance floor. And I felt fluish one night. But I checked my temperature and the thermometer read 36.4˚C. Very normal.  I didn’t even feel tired; in fact, I even laundered the clothes I had worn during the trip.

But it just felt out of the ordinary that I immediately informed my friends and our handlers about my symptoms, “which could be something or nothing at all.” I told them to take care and be aware of their contacts, just in case they caught something too. They assured me they were feeling well.

While I never got feverish, more symptoms manifested: I started sneezing in succession a few times in the day, and started coughing, nay, barking. I thought it was just a bad asthma attack and allergic rhinitis, which I usually get at certain times of the year. After all, I had been so careful during this last trip (or so I thought) and didn’t even remove my face mask on the plane rides to and from Cebu. Whenever we were indoors, I automatically put on my mask.

Except when we were eating. And I was beside our new Cebuano friends. Miggy, who was also on the trip, pointed out that she and her husband had been seated near our new friends too, the only difference being that they both kept their masks on even while eating. How they managed this feat? Put the food in your spoon, lift the mask with your left hand, shove the food into your mouth with your right, then lay the mask again over your face. Chew. (Try it. It may save you from Covid.)

I suppose it also had to do with how we were seated for our meals in those air-conditioned restaurants. Social distancing is no longer practiced there, unlike here in Manila. While dining, we were seated close to each other, took food from the same serving plate using the same service utensils. And I laughed a lot. Yikes.

Seriously, I could have caught the virus many different ways. At the tourist transport, if it wasn’t cleaned well, and I touched the chair and uwittingly brought my hand to my face. Or from the person who stocked the container with red candles I had lit up at the shrine of the Venerable Archbishop Camomot. (Why he didn’t take the virus with him while bilocating elsewhere, I do not know.) Or from the freshly cooked chicharon I bought from that city; the cook could have been asymptomatic.

I don’t mean to sound silly, as falling prey to Covid is certainly no laughing matter. But I just wanted to point out that, yes, the virus is still out there. It is not letting up, even as we let our guards down, trying to return to our pre-pandemic lifestyle. As per the Department of Health bulletin dated September 11, there were 15,379 new Covid cases, but mildly boasting that the ICU and non-ICU hospital bed utilization rates remain below 30 percent. Don’t worry, kids—it’s all under control! (It is worth noting that none of the people in my Cebu tour group got sick.)

My pulmonologist (who insisted I take an antigen test which, yes, yielded a positive result) shared that there were indeed more people getting sick from Covid. Most cases have gone unreported, he said, because the afflicted stay home after getting a positive antigen test result. Like his other patients, he too advised me to just continue my home quarantine; I had to keep taking my anti-asthma medication, even as he prescribed me more pharmaceuticals like a cough suppressant, an antihistamine, and more vitamins. My wallet screamed in agony. Ugh.

But I am lucky I have received two booster shots from the super powerful Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, so except for my asthma attack and allergic rhinitis, I was getting better. My oximeter readings were in fact, a constant 97. So the doctor said he would no longer prescribe me the molnupiravir Covid-treatment drug. Phew!

Besides, he stressed that this drug was still experimental, “So we still don’t know if it has any long-term effects.” (But I am lucky to have a friend who was even willing to donate her extra molnupiravir if I needed it, God bless her.)

And even as I am down with Covid, I have a coterie of lovely friends who have sent me ayuda in the form of food. Oh, they know me so well! Mmmwah…thank you! You know who you are. All these yummy treats will help get me back on my feet quicker, although public social interactions will have to remain in the backseat for a while. Doctor’s orders.

So the moral of the story is: continue to mask even outdoors, notwithstanding what our government says. Continue to practice social distancing when we can, or just totally avoid crowds. And, lastly, don’t laugh too hard. The virus might just make a swan dive into your nose and mouth.

Image credits: Hakan Nural on Unsplash